Police need to change their procedures in order to get consistent results when using facial recognition technology according to new research.

The Police Science Institute at Cardiff University have conducted the first independent academic evaluation of Automated Facial Recognition (AFR). They say considerable investment is needed to improve the deployment of the technology.

Facial recognition technology has been used at major events in Cardiff. Credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire/PA Images

AFR has been used by South Wales Police at major events like the UEFA Champions League Final and Autumn International Rugby fixtures. But researchers found in 68% of cases where police used still images from AFR, the image quality was not good enough.

We have learnt much about the technology during the evaluation period, and its ability to help prevent and detect often serious crimes, along with how it can assist our officers in supporting the vulnerable. The report provides a balanced perspective of our use of the technology and hopefully it will help to demystify some of the misunderstandings and misinformation that have proliferated across the press. South Wales Police remains committed to the continuous use of the technology in a proportionate and lawful way to protect the public, whilst also remaining open and transparent about how and when we use it.

Deputy Chief Constable Richard Lewis, South Wales Police
Image quality was a major factor in the success rate of AFR.

When Automated Facial Recognition was used to scan faces from CCTV footage, there was a 76% success rate in correctly identifying a person of interest. Over the course of the team's evaluation, the accuracy of the technology improved significantly and researchers say police got better at using it.

There is increasing public and political awareness of the pressures that the police are under to try and prevent and solve crime. Technologies such as Automated Facial Recognition are being proposed as having an important role to play in these efforts. What we have tried to do with this research is provide an evidence-based and balanced account of the benefits, costs and challenges associated with integrating AFR into day-to-day policing.

Professor Martin Innes, Researcher

A total of 18 arrests were made using the technology during the research period. Over 100 people were charged following investigative searches aided by AFR between July 2017 and March 2018.